With all of these things in mind, I thought I would share my top five tidbits that I think incoming bush teachers need to know. There are definitely more than just five important things to know, but these specific things have been on my mind lately and I wanted to share.
//Five Things I Want Incoming Bush Teachers to Know//
- Teaching in the bush is unlike teaching anywhere else. There are a lot of unique things about living in rural Alaska, and teaching seems to further amplify all of them. For starters, your relationships with your students, especially in small sites, is extremely different than anywhere else. In urban areas, it would be seen as very inappropriate to have students at your house. In our community though, a chorus of, "can I visit??" follows us constantly. There are also many cultural norms, like raising your eyebrows to indicate that you agree, that you have to get used to. Because of all of these new things, it is incredibly important to be an adaptable person and to remember that you do not always know what is the best or the most culturally-relevant for your students.
- Involving yourself in the community is important. Many rural communities are used to teachers being very insular, or even leaving their village after mere months (heck, some teachers don't even make it off of the airplane). It can be hard for the locals to accept new teachers because of how often they've been burned in the past. It took us many months, but we've slowly worked our way into a routine of getting invited to do things out and about. Now, we regularly get invited to play cards, take a steam, go ice fishing, and etc. It definitely took time to form these relationships though, and we wouldn't be nearly as content with life here without them.
- You must be content with yourself. Teaching here is incredibly isolating in a lot of ways. As a person, you really have to be ok being alone with your own thoughts. A negative person or someone with self-destructive tendencies would struggle immensely in such an unforgiving place. Being content also applies to your family that comes to live in Alaska with you. Cody and I had to really work to create some kind of balance because we see each other 24hrs/day (literally). We work in the same classroom all day, we come home together, and then we repeat the next day. Our relationship has grown stronger, but it has also been tested. All personal and familial problems will be magnified, so it's important to weigh the considerations of your own sanity before you take the leap.
- The winters are long. The Alaska Peninsula, where I live, experiences far less extreme temperatures and daylight patterns than much of Alaska. However, it doesn't matter where you are in this state - the winter will be long. The sun won't rise until after 10am, and it will be dark by the time you get out of work. In some places, you may not see the sun for months. Some people, like myself, don't mind the lack of sun too much. There is a big difference between "not minding" something and "being happy" about something though. If you are new to the state, the winters will affect you. Take some vitamin D, stock up on hobbies, and make sure that you are keeping yourself busy and happy.
- The kids will get very attached to you, and vice versa. The kids in rural Alaska can be amazing. I may be a bit biased, but I think Pilot Point kids are some of the world's best. They are kind, thoughtful, loving, affectionate, smart, witty, and independent. My relationship with my students is so personal because we see each other every single day. We work one-on-one in our classroom, they follow me on walks after school, and on the weekends they help me grocery shop. Early in the year, we didn't have such a close relationship. They were, understandably, a bit slow-to-warm because of how regular teacher turnover has been here. As the months passed though, and they realized we were committed to staying all year, their warmth towards me (and Cody) grew exponentially.
As always, if you're interested in coming to the bush - send me a message! I'd be happy to answer any questions that you have and offer support, advice, or just an ear to bounce ideas off of.
Your turn...What are some tips you would like to offer newbies at your job?
Currently listening to...Love is All - Tallest Man on Earth